For this week’s Slow Jam Saturday, I wanted to give some flowers to Season 2 contestant Corey Clark. While Clark’s disqualification from the show was highly publicized, he could always carry a tune, and it would have been great to see how far he could have gotten on the show.
Slow Jam Saturday: Jodeci, Lately
Renowned R&B group Jodeci is currently delighting their fan base as one of the opening acts for the New Edition’s Culture tour. The four-man R&B group has an eloquent catalog of slow jams and ballads, which could all serve as this week’s Slow Jam Saturday selection. However, as my wife and I are attending the Baltimore date of the culture tour, I should highlight one of the group’s live singles, “Lately,” from the album Uptown MTV Unplugged.
It was summer 1993, and Jodeci was still basking in the success of their debut album, Forever My Lady. The group’s latest single, “Let’s Go Through the Motions,” was the first single from the soundtrack to the Hip Hop comedy, Who’s the Man. The group, along with label mates Heavy D & the Boyz, Father MC, Christopher Williams, and Mary J. Blige, were all participants in MTV Unplugged.
Unplugged’s format of highlighting musical artists playing acoustic instruments was perfect for DeVanté Swing to showcase his piano playing skills. In addition, Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records, wanted the world to know just how strong Kci & Jo Jo’s vocal chops were and suggested doing an oldies cover song. The song the group chose was “Lately” from Stevie Wonder’s Hotter than July album.
Ironically, the Hailey brothers had never heard the song before and learned it 24 hours before the shows taping. After performing “Forever My Lady,” “Come & Talk to Me,” and “Stay” to an energetic crowd, group member JoJo lets the audience know they have something special for them. Kci and JoJo share lead vocals on the first verse of the classic song.
The Hailey brothers sing in an excellent pitch making the classic ballad their own and paying a respectable homage to Mr. Wonder. As a youth, “Lately” fell into a mondegreen for me, as I genuinely did not understand the lyrics. However, as an adult with life experience, I realize just how much heartbreak “Lately” evokes despite the beauty of the song.
The tune is plain as day. The hero truly thinks his love is undermining him, and he discovers that she is. Nevertheless, how the melody is composed and depicted is exceptionally strong. Lyrics like “What I truly feel, my eyes won’t allow me to stow away … cos they generally begin to cry” and “of late I’ve been gazing in the mirror, gradually dismantling me … attempting to let myself know I have an explanation, with your heart” are excellent.
Jodeci’s version of “Lately” would become one of the group’s signature songs. Who doesn’t remember the hilarious performance of the song on Martin with Martin Lawrence? Furthermore, seeing the group perform the track on The Arsenio Hall Show, complete with a surprise assist from Mr. Wonder himself, is one of the great nineties R&B moments.
Final Grade: A
Jodeci’s cover of “Lately” from Uptown MTV Unplugged is available on all streaming platforms.
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